Putting the tea back into high tea
High tea was not something I grew up with, but something I have grown to love. It hasn’t always been about the tea for me, but rather the “event” of high tea — a few leisurely hours sipping tea and nibbling on finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and beautiful pastries and cakes, while catching up with a good friend.
However, it has now been pointed out to methat the focus of high tea should really be about enjoying a rejuvenating cup of tea in the afternoon betweenlunch and dinner. All the food that comes with the tea is there to complement the beverage, rather than the other way around, as it seems to be today. In fact, in some restaurants, you can order even coffee instead of tea during high tea.
Dilmah, a family-owned and operated tea company based in Sri Lanka, recently held the first Real High Tea Challenge in Hong Kong. Each team of two was challenged to put the “tea” back into high tea. Contestants needed to demonstrate an understanding of tea and using it as an ingredient in beverages and food items. Basically, contestants needed to show they knew how the flavor is affected by where tea is grown (the terroir), how different teas taste, different brewing techniques, plus the use of other ingredients sourced from family businesses like Dilmah, if possible. Outstanding presentation and elegant service were also criteria.
The 13 teams, each consisting of a chef and a food-and-beverage person, were from hotels in Hong Kong. The teams competed for gold medals and the chance to attend Dilmah’s School of Tea in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and tocompete against regionalcompetitors in early 2015.
Each team had to create a pairing, a beverage and a food item, within a specified time frame. The contestants used a minimumof four varieties of tea, served both hot and cold, and with and without alcohol. Four different pre-prepared high tea nibbles were paired with the tea beverages — two sweet and two savory items.
Simon Evans, executive chef of the Hong Kong Cricket Club, says the challenge for the chefs was to find out how to use the teas in cooking: “Which teas were good for using as a crust when pan searing or when baked in a cake— Did the flavor overpower? Or did the cooking actually kill the flavor of the tea?
“This took weeks to develop and every tea we were given was used in up to five different ways in trying to create a dish. Nothing was left to chance and every avenue to the art of tea making and cooking techniques was explored.”
Inthe end, the Island Shangri-La team and theHongKong CricketClub team tied for the gold. Their creations showed a good understanding of tea and how to use it as an ingredient, and in the Island Shangri-La’s case, the presentation showed a lot of dramatic flair with their Hollywood movie-themed pairings. The Island Shangri-La’s “In the Mood for Love” pairing of the refreshingMaggie & Tony (natural rosehip and hibiscus) and Clementine Tangerine with Nuwara Eliya Pekoe Sorbet was very well received. The judges said they were impressed by the crispness of the pastry and the lovely textures the team presented. This team worked very well together and had a lot of fun while they were presenting, with high fives after each dish, all the while being completely professional.
The judging was done by a panel of culinary experts and, of course, a tea expert — Dilhan C. Fernando, son of Dilmah founder Merrill J. Fernando. He was joined by highprofile chefs Bernd Uber and Peter Kuruvita. Since its launch, the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge has taken place in countries including Australia, Singapore and the Netherlands. Points are awarded based on a World Association of Chefs Societies-approved point system.
“We were extremely impressed by the high standard demonstrated,” Fernando said at the end of competition in Hong Kong. “We look forward to welcoming today’s winners to our beautiful Tea School in Sri Lanka to compete in Dilmah’s Real High Tea Global Challenge in early 2015.”
High tea has definitely been transformed for me. It is now not only a time to relax and recharge, it has also become a time formeto learn to savormy cup of tea and truly enjoy the experience.